Former Stephen Lawrence murder suspect jailed for part in South Shields drugs conspiracy ordered to repay £6,000

Neil Acourt. File photo issued by the Metropolitan Police
Neil Acourt. File photo issued by the Metropolitan Police

A former suspect in the murder of Stephen Lawrence has been ordered to repay £6,000 reaped from a drug ring or face a further four months behind bars.

Neil Acourt was jailed for six years and three months last February for conspiracy to supply Class B drugs as part of a £750,000 criminal scheme.

He was said to have been the "man at the top" of a two-year conspiracy which involved dozens of 600-mile round trips from London to the South Shields area, ferrying drugs up and taking cash back.

The 42-year-old, of Eltham, south-east London, was arrested in relation to the racist attack on 18-year-old Mr Lawrence, who was stabbed to death by a gang of white men at a bus stop in Eltham in 1993.

But the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) formally discontinued the case against him after a meeting with the senior investigating officer.

Acourt, a father-of-one who is also known as Neil Stuart, was brought from HMP Standford Hill for a confiscation hearing at Kingston Crown Court on Thursday.

Judge Susan Tapping found, on the balance of probabilities, the plot saw 10 trips involving 55 kilograms of cannabis and two involving 100 kilograms. Each kilogram was worth £1,000.

She said: "The total benefit figure for this conspiracy is £750,000."

Acourt, who appeared wearing a grey prison tracksuit, and two of his co-conspirators were found to each be liable for the full amount.

He was said to have £6,000 of realisable assets to his name and was told to repay that sum under the Proceeds of Crime Act, along with a victim surcharge of £120.

He will have three months to pay and if he defaults will receive a further four months in jail, the judge ruled.

A Serious Crime Prevention Order was also put in place, effective from the day of his release, which requires him to keep police informed of the vehicles he uses and his financial affairs.

He will also be prohibited from associating with six unnamed people, the court ruled.

Acourt's childhood friend, James Botton, 46, of Greenwich, south-east London, and father-in-law Jack Vose, 64, of Bexley, Kent, were each jailed for four years and nine months over the plot.

Both were said to currently have £1 available to them and were told to pay it within seven days or face an extra day in jail. They were also told to pay a victim surcharge of £120.

Daniel Thompson, 30, of South Shields, Tyne and Wear, was jailed for four years and two months.

It was agreed he should repay 11 months worth of the two-year conspiracy, matching the time of his involvement, which was calculated at £343,750.

He will pay the £25,457.97 currently available to him, the court ruled, along with £120 victim surcharge.

Earlier, prosecutor Sarah Przybylska said: "Two hundred kilos were seized across two shipments, there were 37 journeys during the course of this conspiracy that was movement between London and South Shields that the prosecution say was for the movement of drugs and money."

The defence accepted that there "must have been" more than 200 kilos of cannabis moved during this time, she added.

Lawyers for the defendants suggested the figure was speculation and asked the judge to make a lower valuation, a submission she said she had taken into account.

All defendants previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply a Class B drug between January 2014 and February 2016.

In 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted at the Old Bailey of murdering MrLawrence and jailed for life.